Wednesday, September 11, 2013

FOUR BATSWANA POETS IN STOCKHOLM & UPPSALA


 Between October 1st and 6th 2013, four Batswana poets Barolong Seboni, TJ Dema, Moroka Moreri and Drea will perform in Stockholm and Uppsala, Sweden. The project is a collaboration between my organization Sauti Arts and Performance Management and the Sweden based Uppsala Stadsbibliotek (Central Library) and is financed by the Swedish Arts Council. Past projects for Sauti A&PM include hosting the Botswana leg of the Poetry Africa 2012 tour and recording 12 Batswana poets in English, Setswana and iKalanga on 1 CD. The dates for this poetry exchange are:

1.    (1st October, 2013) In Stockholm the Batswana poets will read at a belated 47th Independence day celebration - Botswana celebrates gaining independence from her British Protectorate status on September 30, 1966- hosted by the Botswana Embassy in Sweden.

2.   Between October 2nd - 6th, 2013 the 4 poets will perform/read alongside their Swedish counterparts (Henry Bowers, Jorgen Gassilewski, Laura Wihlborg and Sam Kessel) as part of the Ordsprak Festival in Uppsala.

3.   Upon their return to Botswana the local poets will host their Swedish counterparts in Gaborone between 20-24th November 2013. They will participate in school workshops, public talks as well an evening of poetry. Further details will follow in the press closer to the event date.

Find poet’s biographies and photographs below.



Barolong Seboni was born in Kanye, Botswana in 1957. He did his MA in English Literature at University of Wisconsin, USA.  Seboni has published several works of poetry and has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Korean and Setswana. He has also published and edited multiple works as well as recited his poetry in Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, India, England, Scotland, Ireland, Colombia and the USA.
He is co-founder of the University of Botswana Writers’ Workshop and the Writers’ Association of Botswana. He was poet-in-residence at the Scottish Poetry Library in 1993, and Visiting Writer of the University of Iowa's International Writers’ Program in 2003. Seboni is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department at the University of Botswana.


Drea is a Botswana-born poet residing in Brussels, Belgium. A systems auditor by profession who describes her life as the juggling of the tangible and intangible worlds.  In 2006 she was invited together with Johannesburg-based poet Kojo Baffoe to represent Africa in the 13 cities UK Slam Tour organized by Hammer & Tongue (Oxford,UK). During the tour she became the slam champion in Nottingham and Cambridge. 
She returned to the UK in June 2009 and 2010, this time as part of a memorable line-up at Glastonbury Festival. In the same year she also shared her words at Ordsprak – International Poetry Festival at Regina Theatre (Uppsala) and Stockholm City Theatre, Sweden. She has since taken her words from Berlin to Harare. Her album 1981 Was a Good Year, released in 2010 made her the first Motswana to commercially
release poetry on audio. She is currently working on a book of poems and music.


Moroka Moreri is a renowned Setswana oral poet who has penned several poetry books such as Motlhaolosa, Tshokele, Khuduela, Mmamowe, Sehutswelo and Thotse. His masterpiece Motlhaolosa was prescribed for junior schools and used in Cambridge examinations.
He is a translator and his past projects include translating a mathematics textbook for primary schools. Moreri is also a renowned cultural activist whose poems have been extensively used by musicians on collaborative ventures. 



pic:Petra Rolinec
TJ Dema is former chairperson of the Writers Association of Botswana and an Honorary Fellow in Writing of the University of Iowa -IWP. She was Botswana's representative to the London 2012 cultural Olympiad event - Poetry Parnassus. In the same year she was a recipient of a Vermont Studio Centre writers residency fellowship. She was a founding member of the Exoduslivepoetry! Collective.
She has performed widely and facilitated youth writing workshops across Europe, the USA and Southern Africa. Dema participated in Lancaster University's Crossing Borders program, mentored Botswana’s all female team of national champions for the Power in the Voice program and has been guest writer for the University of Warwick's International Gateway for Gifted Youth. Selections of her work have been translated into Chinese, Spanish, Arabic and German.  She is part of the concept band Sonic Slam Chorus.


I've been traveling quite a bit over the last five years and wanting to work on projects that would allow me to handpick other Batswana poets and tailor make a kind of this-is-Botswana-bevy to present to an international audience, while introducing Batswana to other world voices. Only good can come of  word-lovers meeting each other and sharing space. 
Barolong is a kind of bridge between his generation of poets and the post 2000 generation of Batswana voices. He is widely published which is actually quite unusual in Botswana as ours is arguably not a big print culture though there is always an open mic/spoken word session happening in some place or other in the city. Enter Drea, before she moved to Brussels its fair to say she and I were two of a small group of the post 2000 poets whose work was becoming quite familiar across the country as it certainly already was within poetry circles in the city. Now based in a mainly French speaking country she continues to work on her craft within this new geographical context. On this trip Moroka is the only one to write and recite in Setswana. I was especially eager to include him because he presents a different and lesser heard/seen face of poetry coming out of Botswana. He is also just generally amazing at honouring the traditional form/s of Setswana poetry and this created an opportunity for me to get a sample of his work translated into English for the first time. 
To create some sort of makeshift concept I perhaps should have led with this - Botswana has no arts council and the corporate social responsibility programs are often prohibitive and mainly interested in other, though not less worthy, fields such as children's care, education and sports. Accessing funding for art is always problematic and keeps most productions frozen at the level of high school drama showcase. We do have a department of Arts and Culture in the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture but anyone who lives here will tell you that nothing is cheap (Botswana is actually quite expensive unless you are earning your income in one of the top 3 foreign currencies) and the amounts offered by the DAC although welcome will hardly change the local arts landscape anytime soon. 
Botswana is by far one of the most economically and politically stable countries not just on the continent but I might argue further afield and being classified as a middle income country I think adds to the perception that art and culture is a bona fide priority locally. There is in my opinion a lot of investment emotionally, financially and infrastructurally not so much. Quite  a number of international funders either explicitly exclude Botswana (or limit applications to developing countries only) from their funding lists or at the very list prioritise other African countries that are of 'special interest' i.e. war torn, recovering from political turmoil etc. To find teh silver lining here its an opportunity to work free from outside string-pulling and influence but the reality is it can be tough out /in here and the end game for  a lot of rising artists is to move to South Africa or Europe. 
Bookings can be quite sparse and this is not only financially troubling it is more importantly problematic for performance poets for whom working that performance muscle is essential to finding an authentic voice. With a mainly blank entertainment calendar the alternative is often for one to diarise attendance to beauty pageants because at least there is bound to be one of those every other month with a proper stage and one slot for a poet or singer between outfit changes. I'm only half joking, their is a concern about the quality versus the quantity of events as well. Half-hearted rant aside, I love my home and hopefully it will always be a base from which I can draw inspiration. Back to the project at hand, I was absolutely delighted when the Swedish Arts Council announced their decision to back this exchange. 
We hope to see you at one of our three stops, come and say hi.